Today makes sixty days since Imani’s last full update, and it is like a greasy phlegm has been removed from her senses. Never before has her sense of smell been so intense, so accurate. She even finds the odors of the swamp she and Bahati are in pleasing. The scents are so raw and genuine, Imani wonders how she has lived without ever having experienced them on this level before.
“This is the park I visit when I want to think,” Bahati says, undressing. She tosses her blouse and pants onto a low hanging branch and throws her shoes aside. She dips her fully nude body into the brackish water.
“Where are all the other people?” Imani says, taking in her surroundings.
The trees are cluttered so closely together, they block out much of the orange moon. It is noon, the moon at its highest point in the sky, but only few rays make it past the leaves.
“Others mostly stay away from this part of the park and get high where the grass grows so tall, no one can find them.”
Imani plucks a fat bug from a tree and gently rolls it between her thumb and forefinger. The gelatinous thing tickles her fingers as it squirms for escape. A giggle escapes her mouth, right before she squeezes it between her teeth. Bitter, warm fluid squirts her tongue and she gags.
“That tastes bad,” she says, spitting.
“Yeah. So, maybe you shouldn’t eat bugs. Small suggestion,” Bahati says, laughing.
“Does all food taste that bad?”
“That isn’t food. Well, not the kind of food I’d suggest you eat. When we wean you off the other updates, you’ll be able to eat and digest.”
Imani stoops beside the pond, and scoops a handful of water. It is gritty and cooler than the air. Imani imagines it would be uncomfortable for herself, but Bahati seems to be enjoying it. Bahati’s eyes are closed, her head tilted back surrounded by a fan of hair as she floats. Her breasts are speckled orange by the pieces of light that make it through the greenery.
Peeling off her dress and shoes, Imani emerges herself in the swamp. Her breath catches, as the cold water compresses her chest. She thinks will be defused and begins struggling to be free of the frigid body of water. Bahati never opens her eyes, but her words are low, calming, as she tells Imani to relax and breathe slowly. Imani’s terror subsides as she follows Bahati’s suggestions.
The gritty liquid invades every crevice of Imani’s body. The fluid is coarse but gentler than the hose she must spray herself clean with at home. She rubs the sand-like grit on her arms and face. When she looks up, Bahati is smiling.
“Have I done something wrong?” Imani asks, looking down.
Bahati shakes her head. “Stop looking down. You’ve done nothing bad. Watching you is like watching a hatchling discover its own tail. I mean, before it falls off shortly thereafter.”
Imani dips her toes in the grit at the bottom of the marsh, getting a better feel for its texture. “Is this what most things other than bugs feel like?”
“So, you think people feel like mud and water? Have you ever touched a person?”
“I haven’t had reason to touch anyone else,” Imani says. Short pause. “May I touch you?”
Bahati nods, and Imani traces her fingers along the reptilian’s arm. Her scales are deceptively soft. When Imani pulls or pushes them, they harden as if on instinct. Relaxed, the scales are closer to skin, fading from dark green to almost translucent.
Imani hands travel up Bahati’s arm, to her shoulder blade and down her chest. Bahati closes her eyes, and her diaphragm rises and falls more slowly. Her breasts are larger than Imani’s, but they have a firm shapeliness that seems like it may last forever. In Imani’s grasp, they feel as soft as her own. She kneads them like red clay used for building.
Bahati moans, eyes flickering open as she clasps her claws around the bot’s arm. “Enough touching for today.”
“I’m sorry. They just feel so different but the same. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Believe me, you did not offend me. We just still have updates to erase from your system. I need you to understand things.”